Family turtle conservation holidays

There’s much to be said for volunteering as a family when you go away. It teaches kids how to be generous with their time and effort, brings you into contact with other cultures, and often fosters an interest in conservation that can last a lifetime. It’s also just a brilliant way to share quality time with each other, doing something a bit out of the ordinary.

When it comes to family volunteering, sea turtle conservation projects are some of the best out there. The tasks are easily manageable even for young children, and you get to see turtles lay their eggs up close and even help their hatchlings make their way down to the sea. It’s an amazing experience, and it doesn’t hurt that these projects also operate in some of the world’s most beautiful places: Kefalonia in Greece, the Maldives, the Seychelles and Costa Rica. Prepare to be the envy of the school run.

What do family turtle volunteer projects involve?

Is there a minimum age for turtle volunteering?

The general recommendation for family turtle volunteering is for children to be aged eight or above – although parents know their children best, and depending on the location, some projects may be able to accommodate children that are younger. The minimum age is five in Costa Rica and eight in Greece, while the Maldives welcomes children of all ages.

“We have age recommendations in place so that kids come away with an understanding of things,” says Anne Smellie, from our turtle conservation specialists partner Oyster Worldwide. “We have had people wanting to come with six-month-old babies before, and we’ve said no. But we had a child who was four-and-a-half and she absolutely loved it, so it depends on the families as well. If kids are raised to be really hardy and have maybe grown up on a farm or always gone camping, or this sort of thing, then it’s no great transition. But for some younger families it could be a lot more challenging.”

How long is family turtle volunteering?

Most family turtle projects last 1-2 weeks, so they fit neatly into school holidays. It’s enough time to make a difference, but you won’t return home feeling tired out. There are longer projects available too, but these tend to be aimed more at adults.

What will we be doing?

The amount of hands-on conservation work you do largely depends on how long you’re there for. Training new volunteers requires projects to invest time so if you’re only there for a week, you’ll get an introduction to what’s involved and certainly take part, but usually to a limited degree and focusing on the exciting bits. And that may well be what you’re after, as it’s doubtful your kids will relish the thought of spending their holiday entering statistical data into spreadsheets.

Daily – and nightly – tasks are the same, whatever your age, so kids will be out patrolling the beach, measuring turtles, marking nests and gathering up eggs, which can be fabulous fun as they really are playing an essential role in protecting the turtles. It’s also very exciting being out and about at night!

One of our travellers, Karen, took her nine year-old daughter on a family-friendly turtle conservation project in Costa Rica. She said: “A lot of people think it is all work and no time to relax or do your own thing. With the turtles, we did our patrols between 7pm and 5am, so apart from maybe catching up on a bit of sleep, we also got to swim, walk to the lagoon, play on the beach or take trips into town. The staff were really good about checking if certain shifts were OK for us or not. It was basically like an all-inclusive holiday, but you just put a few hours of your time aside to help.”

Meeting local children will likely happen in any project located near to a local community – but especially in projects where volunteers lead sessions in local schools, or where local school children enjoy educational visits to the projects to learn about the work being carried out. Obviously, there are great opportunities for cultural exchange between your kids and the locals, but also for them to just have a game of volleyball on the beach.

“The mother turtles come up the beach at night to nest and the volunteers patrol the beaches looking for them to gather data,” continues Anne. “They tag the turtle, measure the size of the shell, check her health, measure the size of the track, see if she’s come to that beach before – they’re building up a real picture of where mother turtles are nesting.”

What about sleep schedules?

“In Costa Rica, the trips are tailored so families get the best patrol times and kids get the best night’s sleep,” says Anne. “Sometimes one parent will stay with the kids and the other will go out on the patrol, and then they’ll swap and the kids will have a night off. But quite often, if the parents suggest that the kids have a night off, they’re adamant that they don’t want it, which is quite funny.”

The nature of this volunteer work can be a little disruptive to sleeping patterns, but there’s plenty of time during the day to nap and catch up on your eight hours.

Where do we stay?

Do bear in mind that you are not going to be living in luxury – something that children may take to naturally. However, projects are aware that families usually need a bit more privacy, and a few more home comforts, than adult only groups.

In Greece you might have a studio apartment and the use of bikes to get you down to the beaches. Volunteering in the Maldives, you’ll share a house and meals with other volunteers, although your family bedroom will have an en suite bathroom. And in Costa Rica, accommodation is likely to be traditional, quite basic cabins by the beach that are owned by local families.

Do we get any time off?

It’s a given that families probably don’t want to spend the entirety of their holidays on duty, so our partners ensure that you’ll have plenty of free time, usually in the afternoons. In the Maldives you can swim, snorkel, play volleyball or go crab-catching, while in Costa Rica popular activities include surf lessons, horse riding, swimming in lagoons or just rocking in a hammock.

Turtles nest in some pretty wild and remote areas, so there are often opportunities to observe and learn about other animals while you’re it. Costa Rica’s Pacuare Reserve is a great example; the boat ride to the reserve is a jungle safari, where you may spot sloths, caimans and spider monkeys along the banks.

And the simplicity of life by the beach means that the lessons picked up in many places are not all about conservation – children will be immersed in communities, learn about the lifestyles of kids who live there and share aspects of their own. It’s not hard for them to make friends, and any language barriers seem not to really matter after a short while.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Turtle conservation or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Oyster Worldwide] [Intro: Oyster Worldwide] [Meet the locals: Oyster Worldwide] [Anne Smellie quote: Oyster Worldwide]